Research by the LSU AgCenter is the reason ConAgra built a state-of-the-art sweet potato-processing facility near Delhi, state Senator Francis Thompson, of Delhi, said at a farm forum.

“If we don’t have research, we can’t produce jobs,” Thompson said at the recent Northeast Louisiana Farm Issues Forum.

Thompson, chairman of the state Senate Agriculture Committee, said the LSU AgCenter funding is in peril.

State rice farmers recently approved a five-year continuation of a check-off program to fund research, he said. “All of our commodities here need to continue the research.”

State Rep. Andy Anders, of Clayton, said he will be meeting with Georgia officials to learn how that state funds its agriculture research programs.

The LSU AgCenter has suffered a 28 percent cut of almost $20 million since July 2008, said AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson. A business plan for the AgCenter is available online at www.lsuagcenter.com by typing “business plan” in the search box.

Richardson said the budget cuts have led to drastic actions, such as closing the Calhoun Research Station after 125 years in operation. Two more stations will also be closed. “We’ve got some others we have to look at.”

This year is the 125-year anniversary of agricultural research in the AgCenter, said LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research, Rogers Leonard. He said facilities such as the Northeast, Macon Ridge and sweet potato research stations will maintain their focus, but the research focus will evolve.

Leonard said an upcoming series of listening sessions will be held across the state to get input for improving the LSU AgCenter.

LSU AgCenter economist Mike Salassi gave an update on the upcoming farm bill discussions in Washington, D.C. Congress may pass a one-year extension of the current farm bill or wait until after the election to pass a new one.

Louisiana Farm Bureau President Ronnie Anderson said he doubts a new farm bill will be approved until after the election.

Agriculture is the bright area of the state’s economy, growing by 25 percent last year, said Mike Strain, Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry.

However, Strain said Louisiana’s export capability is being hampered by the lack of dredging in the Mississippi River, preventing ships from being fully loaded with farm products. State budget cuts also are crippling his department. “We cannot cut our way out of the budget problem.”

Strain said Gov. Bobby Jindal has been agriculture-friendly, and every major economic development in Louisiana recently has involved agriculture.

Water with high salt levels found both in north and south Louisiana can hurt crops and the soil when used for irrigation, said J Stevens, LSU AgCenter soils specialist. A well in Franklin Parish was tested recently with a salt level of 2,054 parts per million.

Jason Griffith of the Natural Resources Conservation Service said water with a 630 parts per million may damage a rice crop.

Stevens said the LSU AgCenter Soil Testing and Plant Analysis Lab can help interpret results of water testing for salt.